Where Do You Start?

A Tale of Two Foot Races

Race Number One:

Eight men enter a race.  They are roughly about the same height and weight but come from very different backgrounds. The eight men enter the race knowing that there will only be one winner.  It was for this outcome that they had prepared themselves with rigorous discipline during the past four years.

Months prior to the track meet the eight men are told of the rules:  A runner must run in qualifying heats. If the runner is successful in those heats the runner will then be allowed to compete in the final race with the other qualifying runners;  a runner who jumps the gun twice at the starting line will be disqualified as having a “false start”;  the commands “Ready”, “Set” and a gun shot will be used by a track official to start the race fairly;  each runner must stay in his lane or he will be disqualified;  runners will be timed and the first runner to cross the finish line will be the winner of the race.

The runners all agree and sign off on the rules before the race.

On the day of the race, after running in the heats, the eight qualifying runners come to the starting line.  They know that they must run straight ahead in their own lane to reach the one-hundred meter line. They know that if they jump the gun twice they will be disqualified from running. They know that they must sprint as hard as they can to cross the finish line first. They are knowingly competing for first place. The race before them has now become the culmination of years of exhausting training and dedication to finishing the race and receiving first prize.

When the race is announced the runners shed their sweats and come to the starting line. They will then position their legs into the starting blocks and place their hands stretched just hugging the starting line.  Seeing the runners in place behind the line the track official then says, “Ready”.  Then after a moment he says “Set”.  The runners then come up to a set position waiting for the starting pistol to go off.  When it does the eight men jolt from their starting blocks and run down the track as fast as their feet will carry them.

At the finish line the winner is the one who breaks the tape. There is also a second, a third and fourth place finisher. The runners-up congratulate the winner for his speed and, implicitly, for his fidelity to the rules and his commitment to the sport of racing.

The first three finishers receive medals, adulation and wreaths of honor from the thousands who have come to watch a fair race between those who have so vigorously prepared themselves. The experience of the race has bolstered each runner’s self-esteem. The cheering crowd is also moved by each runner’s self-sacrifice, dedication and self-discipline. This spectacle has confirmed the crowd’s understanding of playing by the rules and aspiring to excel within those rules. Everyone who witnessed the race that day is stirred to motion – a motion to go home and try harder.

All eight men later return home.  They are now more dedicated than ever to prepare for another day of racing and to receiving the crown of victory.

Race Number Two:

Eight men enter a race.  They are roughly about the same height, weight but come from very different backgrounds. The eight men entered the race knowing that everyone will be a winner.  It was for this outcome that they saw no need to prepare themselves with rigorous discipline during the past four years. They just had to show up.

Months prior to the race the eight men are told the rules.  They are told the rules are subject to change at the time of the race based on the current ad hoc articulated reasoning of one superior intellectual with unquestionable virtue.  A runner must run in qualifying heats but this will not be a constraint. Whether or not a runner is successful in those heats he will also be allowed to compete in the final race with other qualifying runners; a runner who jumps the gun twice at the starting line will not be disqualified from running. Instead he will be given another chance; the commands “Ready” and “Set” and a gun shot will be used by a track official to start the race fairly, though any sincere attempt to cooperate with the official will be accepted; each runner must stay in his lane or he will be disqualified unless, of course, their background is such that they have never stayed within the lines; runners will not be timed because such keeping of minutes would be discrimination against slower runners.  The first runner to cross the finish line will wait at the finish line so that everyone will be considered a winner of the race. This must be done at any personal cost to the first one crossing the finish line.

The runners agree and sign off on the rules before the race.

On the day of the race all of the runners come to the starting line.  They know that they should sincerely try running down to the finish line. There will be prizes and the appreciation of well-wishers to look forward to. They are knowingly going to try for this reason. This race is now the culmination of years of knowing that the battle is just showing up.

When all the runners are in their starting blocks and their hands are behind the starting line the track official then says, “Ready”.  After a long moment of reasoned judgment the official says “Set”.  The runners come up to set position.  When the race official shoots the starting gun the eight men come out of their starting blocks and run down the track as fast as their preparation has trained them.

At the finish line everyone becomes a finisher, even those who left the race due to being out of breath. There are congratulations all around for having showed up to such an event.

At the awards ceremony all the runners receive medals and kudos from the thousands who have come to watch a race between people who have showed up for a race where the outcome was predetermined to be fair – fair as defined by a few judges of superior intellect and of unquestioned virtue.

Later, all the runners returned home and rested from another day of showing up.

*****

A Tale of Two Foot Races:  Equal Opportunities vs. Equal Outcomes by Sally Paradise © Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved

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